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City Administrator Debate Continues In Sheridan

Catherine Wheeler
Sheridan City Hall

Sheridan City Councilman Aaron Linden said the debate on city management isn't a new issue in town.

The conversation comes down to one question: Should a city administrator handle day-to-day operations so the mayor can focus on the bigger picture?

In 2015, Sheridan's then-city council passed an ordinance that gave control of some daily responsibilities to a city administrator. But since that time, there has been some confusion over what the mayor is actually in charge of.

On Monday, July 1, the city council will attempt to pass an ordinance specifically laying out roles of the mayor and administrator.

Sheridan City Attorney Brendon Kerns said the mayor serves as the executive and the city administrator serves as an operator.

Under the proposed ordinance, it's the city administrator-not the mayor-who has the power to give city employees direct orders, he said.

"That power flows through the city administrator through the charter ordinance. The mayor does not have the ability to order the city administrator or staff to perform a specific function with the exception of gathering information, providing that oversight, providing information to the council," Kerns said.

For example, the mayor can ask about the city street cleanings, but the city administrator has the power to direct an employee to clean them.

Sheridan's Mayor Roger Miller opposes the idea that the administrator should run the city.

"It's one of those things that communities think it's a great idea, the city will run better. But what it does is it diminishes the roles and responsibilities and particularly, what I've been saying all along, is the authorities of the mayor to do what the mayor has by state law been assigned to do," Miller said.

He said it makes the city government less accountable to the residents since the administrator is unelected and can make a lot of decisions.

But the mayor is still the most powerful person on the city council. The mayor sets the agenda, has veto power, and provides oversight to the city's departments and the administrator.

The side that wants the city administrator position believes that it helps to have a professional manager running the city. Administrators are usually trained for their work and they aren't elected officials, so they can stick around as mayors come and go which can provide some institutional memory.

Councilman Linden was on the committee that recently looked at if the administrator position is effective. He said he sees the value in the position.

"My personal thought is that it's been working great. The department heads are pleased. The staff is pleased. It seems to have alleviated some of the tension between who is in charge or what real duties we're supposed to be carrying out based on whom," Linden said.

The residents of Sheridan share the same disagreements over the position. Lots of people think the city has been running great since the administrator started and don't see a reason to change it.

Sheridan resident Paul Del Rossi said at a council meeting it leaves the mayor time to focus on policy and the overall direction of the city.

"In my opinion, it is not the role of the mayor to directly manage the operational matters of the city of Sheridan," Del Rossi said.

But others would prefer the mayor run the city. A big part of this has to do with the administrator's six-figure salary.

Mayor Miller said he thinks a chief of staff would be a smarter solution and would be to fill the gaps when it comes to daily operations.

City councilman Jacob Martin thinks an objective administrator is a better approach.

"That's a stronger position than a chief of staff, and it adds continuity and he's able to teach our department heads a lot," Martin said.

The council will hold its last vote on the clarification ordinance on Monday. So far, a majority of the council has voted in its favor and supports continuing with an administrator.

Mayor Miller stresses that if the ordinance passes and residents object, 10 percent of qualified voters have 60 days to sign a petition to bring the ordinance to a public vote.

Miller said in his mind, the issue is a long way from being settled.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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